What are we supposed to make of the debate that sprang up when Staff presented their recommendation for awarding an $838,544.00 contract for changing Thorold’s street lamps to Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs)?
Councillor Handley, as reported in the June 14 Council Briefs, rose to chastise both Staff and Council – repeatedly, I might add – for not doing their homework. While he admitted that he used to be a strong promoter of LED lighting, he had more recently been won over by Magnetic Induction (MI) lighting which, according to his research, is more energy-efficient.
After telling Councillors they hadn’t done their homework and he was the only one, he chimed in “If I’d done my work in high school like I do now, I wouldn’t be here.” This drew a few chuckles around the room, although whether it was that he shouldn’t do his homework or that they picturing that he wasn’t there I’m not sure.
“Council has not been given the best energy saving as far as I’m concerned.”
However, according to the City Staff member who was making the presentation, Joe Colasurdo, research has shown that magnetic induction loses brightness faster than LED. Also, MI light is scattered and can’t be aimed, unlike LED and therefore LED is a better choice for street lighting. Finally, the Province offers and incentive for the City to change over to LED – in this case about $190,000.00 – that they do not for MI. It sounded like Staff did at least some homework.
Then Councillor Paone piped up and announced that he too had done his due diligence. He said that his research indicates that MI degrades (gets dimmer) faster than LED, that the two are similar in cost and cost savings, MI can’t tolerate extreme cold as well, and, like Staff said, MI can’t be aimed. In addition, he noted, there is a small amount of mercury in MI lamps.
The last is important because the Province is looking into the environmental concerns created by mercury in lighting, especially since there is no safe level for mercury exposure. If they should suddenly ban lighting with mercury, we the taxpayers could be on the hook for changing all of our lighting over once again.
So what happened? All parties say they researched. Is someone lying? I know the gut reaction when talking about City Hall (or any government for that matter) is to say yes, but I doubt that they were. While it may have been a case of selective of selective research, it’s more likely that the sheer volume of information out there makes it difficult to decide what’s myth and what’s gospel.
Part of the problem is the reliability of the information you’re seeking, especially if you’re using the internet. But it’s true no matter what method you’re using.
In the case of the internet, much depends upon your search criteria. If you ask for LED, you get mostly LED-positive hits plus a few “causes cancer” articles because we know that everything new causes cancer and the same goes for MI. The first thing you’ll get, however, is the paying sponsored sites. They’re bound to be slanted for obvious reasons.
For any research method though, you can find an argument either way and even in ways you haven’t considered. Many reports cite other research and, while most name sources, they often aren’t peer reviewed and/or the quotes they use are taken out of context. When you do find scientific documents from reputable sources, they’re often still contradictory as source bias creeps in, which is something you’ll get even in source research.
Then there’s the whole question of statistical analysis. If you take courses on the subject in college, one of the first thing that jumps out at you is that statistics can be used to prove just about anything with the same set of raw data. The outcome is determined generally by the method used to compile the statistics. And if the methodology and criteria of the original testing are different, sometimes even slightly, you may get quite a different outcome.
But, all these things aside, Councillor Handley made some good points in all of this when he asked where the scientific evidence was. To this was added the question by Councillors Neale and Ugulini of where the costs were for the other bids, since the winning bid was the only one on the report.
Staff replied that the project had been put out on a Request for Proposals (RFP), which asks not just for costs but for their suggestion as to what solution should be adopted. This has been done in recent years by most municipalities to get around the strict “lowest bid” rules. It also hands you a situation where it would be difficult “comparing apples to apples”, as Staff put it.
Does this make any of it any clearer or settle the question? No? Well not for Council either, who decided instead to follow the example of many of Ontario’s large cities and get the provincial rebate. So they gave the go-ahead to have the LED lights installed, leaving Staff with an admonition that next time they want to see all the proposals.